Faculty at Utah universities and colleges are paid less than the median at similar institutions across the country, according to a new report, which warns that lower pay means lower-quality education.
The "market" for full-time professors is not local so much as it is global. Utah colleges and universities have to compete with those in all parts of the country and other nations as well. Without the funding to be able to recruit the top teachers in science, math, languages, history and all other fields, Utah institutions hire who they can get.
Sometimes educators will take faculty jobs in the Beehive State because they are drawn to Utah's recreation opportunities and quality of life (we won't mention the Wasatch Front's degraded air quality) or to family or church connections.
However, increasingly, in order to maintain the number of courses they need to provide to offer the degrees students want and need, Utah colleges and universities are hiring more part-time, temporary adjunct faculty members. These folks (several Tribune staffers teach part time as adjuncts) work cheap and usually have career experience as well as advanced degrees. Most take the semester-by-semester teaching gigs because they enjoy teaching subjects in which they are immersed in their day-to-day working lives.
But some adjunct instructors don't have other jobs and must teach many courses in order to make a living on a meager per-credit-hour wage. They deserve better pay and need more opportunities for training, at their employers' expense.
The report from the American Association of University Professors warns that higher education is suffering because full-time, tenured professors are not paid well and institutions are hiring more adjunct teachers than ever. In Utah, about 41 percent of the instructional faculty are adjuncts or teaching assistants, up from 38 percent in 2008. Nationally, 67 percent of higher-ed instructors are adjuncts.
The quality of teaching among adjuncts can vary widely, but higher pay and better assimilation into the college or university faculty community would go a long way toward better and more consistent teaching effectiveness.
Low full-time faculty pay is another matter. Especially at Weber State University, Utah State University, Salt Lake Community College and Southern Utah University, where salaries, not counting benefits, rank in the bottom 20th percentile of the country or lower, the pay gap is worrisome. The Legislature must realize that those institutions have a hard time competing for the best professors. That disadvantage can hurt the quality of education and value of the degrees Utah students receive.